Welcome to this week’s Intelligence Brief… on Tuesday, Pentagon officials addressed a second round of strikes in Syria following ongoing attacks against U.S. forces. In our analysis this week, we’ll be taking a look at 1) the revelation that U.S. forces have been attacked a total of 55 times in recent weeks, 2) what we currently know about the incidents, 3) charges that the U.S. has turned a blind eye to other incidents in the region, and 4) the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
Quote of the Week
“We feel confident about the targets that we select, the ability to degrade further capabilities of these IRGC backed groups.”
– Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh
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That all behind us, we’ll now turn our attention toward the ongoing conflict erupting in the Middle East, and how the U.S. is becoming more involved as attacks increase in the aftermath of the recent bloodshed in Gaza.
U.S. Launches Additional Strikes in Syria
On Tuesday, the Pentagon confirmed that there have U.S. forces have been attacked a total of 55 times in recent weeks.
The attacks, which began on October 17th, have resulted in a total of 28 attacks in Syria and 27 in Iraq, resulting in 59 injuries to U.S. personnel. None were deemed serious injuries, and all 59 have reportedly returned to duty.
The news of the attacks followed a statement issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday, who confirmed an additional series of strikes that were recently carried out on Iran-backed facilities in Syria.
“U.S. military forces conducted precision strikes today on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to continued attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria,” Austin said on Sunday. “The strikes were conducted against a training facility and a safe house near the cities of Abu Kamal and Mayadin, respectively.”
“The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests,” Austin said.
Speaking with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said that it is still unknown how many casualties resulted from the recent strikes.
“As we mentioned over the weekend, we are aware that there were IRGC-affiliated members in the proximity of the facilities that were struck by our aircraft, but I don’t have more on — on casualty numbers or anything else to read out,” Singh told reporters.
While no specifics were provided as of Tuesday, The New York Times reported on Sunday that the strikes “most likely killed or injured an undetermined number of people at the sites,” citing unnamed officials familiar with the recent operations while characterizing Sunday’s strike as an apparent “escalation by the Biden administration” following similar strikes that were carried out earlier this month.
Speaking recently about a separate incident involving the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter in the Mediterranean during a training mission, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the “accident did not occur during combat,” and is not considered a result of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
Drone Shoot Downs and Lack of U.S. Response
In a separate incident last week, Iranian-backed Houthis succeeded in bringing down a $32 million U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone, an incident to which the U.S. has not shown a similar military response. During Wednesday’s press conference at the Pentagon, Singh was challenged on the incident, asked at one point about the apparent lack of response by the Pentagon to the incident amidst threats from Houthis against Israeli ships operating in the Red Sea, and whether it effectively invites additional attacks.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s inviting more aggressive or further response from the Houthis,” Singh said early in the press briefing.
“We’ve seen the Houthis do this before,” Singh added, noting past incidents where MQ-9s had been shot down. “I’m not saying that we’re not going to respond. We always reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing. But I just don’t have anything to forecast for you right now.”
Shifting to the ongoing turmoil in Gaza, Singh cited the conflict as “our main goal” and that the Pentagon’s focus “is to contain and to make sure this conflict is contained within Gaza.”
The recent incidents put the United States in an uneasy position amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza, which followed an unprecedented attack led by Hamas against Israel on Saturday, 7 October 2023, a Sabbath day and also a date coinciding with several Jewish holidays.
According to current figures, Gaza’s Health Ministry says more than 11,100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the October attacks, with women and children comprising the majority of the casualties and totaling nearly 0.5 percent of the 2 million residents in Gaza.
On November 9, the White House confirmed that Israel had agreed to pause its military operations for a period of four hours each day in parts of northern Gaza. However, there are no signs of an end to the conflict that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Meanwhile, as the spillover from the bloodshed in Gaza continues to manifest in other regions, Singh said on Tuesday that the U.S. continues to take decisive action when and where it is warranted, particularly involving its strikes against Iranian-backed groups that have carried out the recent attacks on U.S. forces.
“I think we are being very deliberate on how we — and when we conduct our — our strikes against these groups,” Singh said.
“And I think that Iran is certainly seeing that message.”
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